A MUSIC BEHIND THE WALL by Anna Maria Ortese

A MUSIC BEHIND THE WALL

Vol. II, Selected Stories
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KIRKUS REVIEW

A follow-up collection (after 1994’s Vol. I) of deliciously eerie, enigmatic, and resonant symbolic fictions by the recently deceased Italian author (The Iguana, 1984). Ortese’s stories, written over more than a half-century of courageously sustained creative effort, are deftly declarative explorations of their author’s own inquiring sensibility, packed with autobiographical details and observations and explicitly discursive reportage. In them, the author frequently presents herself as the writer dreaming imaginative responses to crises (personal and global alike) that threaten the familial and aesthetic values she cherishes. —Folletto in Genoa,— for example, presents a family transfigured by madness as a grotesque metaphor for —the unification of Italy.— In “Redskin,” an introspective girl contrives a fabulistic escape from the looming certainty of war and a beloved brother’s death in battle. “Fantasies” is an involuted tale that reveals, in effect, how it was conceived and written; and in “Nebel (A Lost Story),” Ortese confides to us, in medias res, her uncertainty about how to develop her story. Her insistent lushness and lyricism (beautifully served by Martin’s graceful translation) is memorably displayed in a sharply detailed “tour” of Rome’s Via Floria (“The Great A Street”), and particularly in a celebratory portrayal of the rich variety of a writer’s imagination (“The Villa”). And in the most Kafkaesque story here, “Slanting Eyes,” a young girl’s —worship— of her remote father is expanded into a darkly comic mock-biblical fantasy. Ortese is often disarmingly funny (“on the subject of mountains, I have to say that here there were no mountains”), and there’s something very attractive in her open espousal of the pleasure and healing power inherent in literary artifice (a concluding autobiographical essay, “Where Time is Another,” ruminates engagingly on her passion for “self-expression” among a family largely indifferent to it, and as a citizen of a country that has suppressed it). Enchanting stuff, from a unique writer. If you like Borges, you’ll like Ortese.

Pub Date: May 29th, 1998
ISBN: 0-929701-56-9
Page count: 224pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1998